Orator and freedom fighter Frederick Douglass, in one of his passionate
speeches about the abolition of slavery said, "Where there is no
struggle there is no progress."1 Douglass was letting
his listeners know that if they would give birth to the child of freedom,
they would have to prepare themselves for hard labor. If they would move
in the struggle for emancipation, they would have to prepare to give birth
to liberation. It is no different for us today. Indeed it is true:
Where there are no guts, there is no glory.
Where there is no pain, there is no gain.
Where there is no battle, there is no blessing.
Birth comes after labor; fruit comes after planting; pleasure comes after
perseverance. If we want to deliver the substance of our life and legacy--to
bring forth that which developed in the womb of our consciousness--then
it would behoove us to prepare for birth.
Wise mothers are depicted as--
Women who give and receive
Women who bear and share
Women who germinate and cultivate
Women who till and nurture
Women who sow and nurture--
Women who bring life and give life
Women who appreciate their gender and respect their femininity
Women who know the power and pleasure of having been
Women who love being women!
The wise mother--prepares for birth.
For some mothers, morning sickness creeps up--queasiness, nausea, upset
stomach, and lethargy set in. You begin to live to sleep and sleep to
live. Your hormones send your emotions on a roller coaster ride. And
only do you go through emotional changes, you go through physical changes
as well. All of a sudden, you find that you have an abundance of padding
and curves in places that you did not have before. And that would be
but most of us already have enough padding on our frames! The pressure
from the child you are carrying may cause your back to ache, your feet
to swell, your body to sweat, and your mind to look forward to the day
when the child shall appear. You look around and you notice that your
hips are expanding and your chest is reaching out to new dimensions--a
change, a change is coming over you. When you go to the doctor, she tells
you, "It's all a part of the preparation for delivery--giving birth." Giving
birth will take you through changes!
And likewise, wise fathers are described as--
Men who plant and empower
Men who build and bless
Men who deposit and return
Men who caress and comfort
Men who create life and support life
Men who bring life and give life
Men who honor their gender and affirm their masculinity
Men who know the difference between making a baby and
being a father--
I'm talking about real men!
The wise father--prepares for birth.
Men, too, go through changes in preparing for birth, wondering if you
will make it through the actual delivery without falling out. Wondering
how you will provide for the new addition in your life. Wondering what
kind of father you will be. Wondering about your wondering. All of it
is a part of the human experience of giving birth. Although men do not
give birth in the physical sense, they do so in the spiritual reality
that both men and women experience. It is a reality that the disciples
in our text are facing.
As Jesus approached his final hour, the time of crucifixion--the hour when he would lose his life so that you and I might find ours--he spoke to the disciples about giving birth. Jesus spoke of giving birth, not in the literal sense, but in the spiritual sense of being willing to go through the crucifixion in order to get to the resurrection in our lives. Using the analogy of a woman in labor, he let the disciples know that they were experiencing a spiritual birth. Like a caring and empathic midwife--Jesus began coaching the disciples, and us, regarding preparation for birth. He let us know that while the world may be rejoicing, moving on, oblivious to the pain that we suffer--God is in touch through the delivery process--to wipe our feverish forehead when the fire of affliction heats up; to guide us through the preparation of delivery so that we will be able to stand when our hours come.
Some of us may need some coaching right now. Some of us may be going through the birth process right now. We are confused and frustrated, perplexed and dismayed, at a difficult point in our life. We are going up, as the old African American hymn says, "the rough side of the mountain." We may feel like throwing in the towel right now, but don't give up on your dream! Don't destroy the vision! Don't abort the baby! Don't end the pregnancy! Remind yourself of the words of Jesus, "When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world" (John 16:21, NRSV).
Hold on until the delivery is complete!
Hold on until the situation changes!
Hold on until sorrow melts into joy and pain simmers into pleasure! Hold on!
Breathe through the contractions of life, concentrate and focus on that
which God is birthing in you so that you may know the joy of God's promise.
Wise disciples will not give up before time. Wise disciples learn how
to prepare for giving birth; how to prepare for delivery so that when
the labor pains come they will know how to handle them, and so they will
be strong enough to ride the wave, move through the moment, and succeed
in the situation. The statement begs the question, How then does one prepare
for giving birth? Well, there are three basic instructions given to pregnant
mothers. These same instruction can be used for pregnant disciples: eat
well; exercise daily; and get plenty of rest.
Doctors tell pregnant mothers to watch what they eat. Some pregnant women use the pregnancy as an excuse to go on a "see food" diet: when you see food, you eat it! But the doctors will tell you to eat those foods that will help you and your unborn child to be strong and healthy. The doctor will supply vitamins and minerals that will aid in keeping you strong and healthy. When a pregnant mother eats well and takes her vitamins, she better prepares herself for the delivery process.
Life is beating up on some of us and we are weak. We are weak because we have not been eating right. We have been on a see food diet, too. We see Ebony, Jet, Essence, and EM, Black Enterprise, and Oprah's magazines in the grocery store, on the newsstand, in the train stations, in the beauty salon, and the "washing house." We see them and we read them. We see the newspaper and we read it. We get that juicy novel and we read it. Well, there is nothing wrong with reading. We need to read to keep informed. The trouble comes when we fail to read the Word of God.
Consider the difference between a strong cup of tea and a weak one. The same ingredients--water and tea--are used for both. The difference is that the strong cup of tea results from longer immersion of the tea leaves in the water. The longer the steeping process, the stronger the cup of tea.
In the same way, the amount of time we spend reading God's Word determines how deeply we get into the Word, and the Word into us. Just like the tea, the longer we are in the Word, the "stronger" we become. In the Word we receive spiritual nutrients that will aid us in giving birth. We will need these nutrients when we are going through the birthing process. The nutrients from Scripture give us something to draw from when the hour comes and delivery gets rough. The Word helps to keep us strong when hard decisions need to be made. The Word will fortify us when the stuff hits the fan and the devil gets busy..., for when the hour arrives, we become like a tea bag in hot water--what is in us comes out!
Rewind the biblical narrative and go down Mark's street, chapter one, verse nine. There you will find Jesus in "hot water." After forty days and forty nights, at Jesus' weakest point, the devil came to tempt him. But what was in the Son of Man came out! Each time the devil--with his slippery slimy ways--came to challenge Jesus, Jesus spoke the Word back to him: "It is written..."
When we are going through the birthing process, we have to learn to say, It is written...
When the wait seems long and the vision seems to fade, we have to learn to say, it is written...
When we are tired of the work and the race makes us weary, we have to learn to say, It is written..."They who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isaiah 40:31). It is written, "The race is not to the swift, but to the person who endures till the end" (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
When the pain is deep and the sorrow high, we've got to learn to say, It is written, "Though weeping may endure for the night, joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).
When we are feeling forlorn and forsaken, we have to learn to say, It is written, "As a father pities a son, so I will pity you" (Psalm 103:13). As a mother comforts a child, I will comfort you. "And you shall be comforted" (Isaiah 66:13).
When we taste grief and sample bitter sorrow, we have to remember Jesus' words and learn to say, It is written, "You will have sorrow but your sorrow will turn into joy" (John 16:20).
If we want to arise in the power of the Spirit--if we want new life, we must learn to say, "It is written...." Eat well and grow strong in the Word!
EXERCISING OUR FAITH
How do we prepare for giving birth? First of all eat well, and then exercise. Doctors tell pregnant women (and all of us for that matter) to get in shape by exercising. Exercise helps prepare our bones and limbs and muscles so that when the hour comes we will endure. In the same way, disciples in the delivery process have to exercise; but not so much the bones, and limbs, and muscles--we gave to exercise our faith. Exercising faith means trusting God enough to say, "Yes" in the midst of difficult labor; to say "Yes" in the crucifying moments; to say "Yes" when the waters of trouble wash over you; to say, "Yes" when the hour comes believing in the sure and certain hope of God's resurrection power.
So ladies, are you feeling rejected because, after fifteen years of marriage, he has left you with two kids and a mortgage? He said he needs to "find himself," which means: lose you and turn you in for a new 25-year-old model who has the body to impress, but not the brains or wisdom to know that the old sayings are sure and true:
"You shall reap what you sow."
"What goes around comes around."
"Everybody plays the fool sometime."
Wipe your eyes; your hour has come! Comb your hair; your hour has come. Put on your makeup; your hour has come. Decide to not only live, but to live abundantly! God is birthing something new in your life. Exercise your faith and say, It is written, "God will supply all my needs according to his riches in glory" (Philippians 4:19)
So you have lost a loved one. You feel empty and drained. Every day is a challenge and every night brings misery...do not fret. Thank God for the time you shared together and realize that this is a new day. Your hour has come! Exercise your faith knowing that God's plans for you are for good and not evil; to give you a garland instead of ashes; the oil of gladness instead of mourning; and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair that you will be called an oak of righteousness. Spread your branches and grow in the Spirit. Exercise faith and say, It is written, "The Lord is my light and my salvation..." (Psalm 27:1).
So you don't have the money now. You are broke and unemployed. You are not sure where your next paycheck is coming from. You have put our hundreds of resumes and still not been offered a job. Be not dismayed, your hour has come! Let your extremity become God's opportunity. Exercise faith. Say, It is written..."God can open doors that no one can shut, and shut doors that no one can open" (Revelation 3:8). Keep sending the resumes. Keep going to the interviews. Do not stop until you see the delivery process is over. Your hour has come!
So the church is going through some things. It seems that the vision is fading and that you will not ever get to your purpose. Officers and members have begun to play ecclesiastical politics and the membership is scattered. Be not dismayed, your hour has come! Exercise faith and say to yourself, It is written, "The gates of hell shall not prevail" against the church (Matthew 16:18). Keep working hard! Keep focused! Your hour has come! It is the time of decision. Exercise your faith; say "yes" to God and trust in God's Word.
GETTING PLENTY OF REST
How do you prepare for giving birth? By eating well, exercising our faith, and getting plenty of rest.
Giving birth will make you tired; ask any mother. Rest becomes a necessary part of your daily routine. Rest allows you to regain the strength and energy to move forward in the delivery process. In the same way, when God is birthing something in you--anew beginning, a new dream, a new season in your life--you will need rest. Not only do you need the sweet slumber of sleep, but the rest that comes when you pause for prayer--allowing spirit to speak to spirit, soul to speak to soul, and deep to call to deep. When you rest in the Lord, God renews you and strengthens you for delivery ahead.
When you are in the delivery process, the stress and strain mounts up on every side--at work and at home, in the community and in the church, in private and in public--folks just seem to pull on you and drain every ounce of energy from the cup of your life. If you are not careful to rest you will suffer from "drain out." But if you will take the time to get some rest, if you will rest in the Lord, God will pour into your soul God's marvelous power--pour until it saturates you; pour until it penetrates every part of your being; pour until your cup runs over with a strength and tenacity that comes only from the Spirit's power.
Our African American ancestors knew how to rest in the Lord. They knew
how to pray to their Maker and connect with the Connector. Resting gave
them the strength they needed to endure the atrocities of slavery and
win your freedom and mine. Wise disciples followed the legacy of
our African ancestors. Wise disciples, like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr., know how to rest when delivery has become almost unbearable.
IN the process of giving birth to the civil rights movement that you
I must now work to protect and keep, Dr. King spoke in a sermon about
how tired he was. He said that he kneeled down in prayer one evening,
and the words to that old African American spiritual came to mind:
Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my work in vain.
But then the Holy Spirit,
Revives my soul again.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.2
After that moment, he said God spoke to him, telling him to stand up
for justice and righteousness, knowing that God would be with him always,
even until the end of the world! With a revived soul and a new determination,
he rose up and stayed in the battle for America's soul.3
Resting in the Lord allows your soul to be revived. When you rest in the Lord, seeking the Lord and citing the Lord, then you are able to receive the manna from heaven, the nutrients from the Rock, the nourishment from a Midwife who knows how to birth that which is within you. No wonder Jesus says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). He is calling us today, to do as the songwriter suggests:
Rest in God--who is the lover of your soul.
Rest in God, who still has it all under control.
God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end.
God is your heavenly Parent. God will provide.
Rest in God, who desires to bless you everyday.
Rest in God, who hears you each time you pray.
All you've got to do is rest in God.4
Rest in the Lord so that when the hour comes you will have an internal
anchor that will allow you to endure until the end!
When the hour came for Jesus, he gave it his all. When the hour came, Jesus said, "Yes." He endured the crucifixion, experienced the resurrection, and now sits at the right hand of God--praying for us, pleading for us, and reminding us that the birth is worth the labor. The crucifixion won't overshadow the resurrection! Keep pushing! Keep painting! Keep praying! Keep laboring! The joy of birth is coming. New life is on the way!
1Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (Miller, Orton, and Mulligan, 1855).
2"Balm in Gilead." Negro spiritual in the public domain.
3Martin Luther King Jr. in a sermon recorded on the album, "In Search of Freedom" (Chicago: Mercury Records Corporation, 1970).
4Paraphrase of the lyrics by Beverly Glenn, "Rest in Me." Lexicon Music, In. and Dixon Music, 1980.
Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett serves as associate pastor
Elmwood United Presbyterian Church in East Orange, New Jersey where
Rev. Robert N. Burkins, Sr., is pastor. This sermon appears in, Outstanding
Black Sermons Volume 4, edited by Walter S. Thomas and is used by
permission of Judson
Press. Rev. Moffett is the author of Beyond
Greens and Cornbread: Reflections of African American Christian Identity.